Byline: Dana Hessling-Goetz

Much to their dismay, homeowners who locked in their fuel charges

in the summer of 2006 ended up paying almost 10 percent more.



Lee Bernier of Charlton was one of them. She did not make another

commitment for the heating season in 2007, but her regret was just

around the corner.



The price-per-barrel of crude oil broke all previous records on

Sept. 17, with analysts predicting an ever-upwards spiral.



The next day Ms. Bernier went to Home Depot and bought a wood

pellet-burning stove for $2100, including tax, and paid another $259 for

a ton of premium pellets.



Ms. Bernier has three daughters still living at home, a barn

converted into a four-bedroom house.





In 2006 she paid $2,200 to heat both it and the water. As a single

mother working as a hair stylist at Rob Roy, she started to do the

arithmetic when several clients talked about the advantages of a wood

pellet-burning stove. Ms. Bernier does not expect to reduce her fuel

bills this year-figuring it will still cost more than $2,000, including

oil consumption for heating the water-but the math checks out for

homeowners buying wood pellets in subsequent heating seasons.



Whether needing to cut back on fuel costs, wanting to reduce energy

consumption - or both - consumers are interested. Energy Star, the joint

program of the United States Environmental Pollution Agency and the

Department of Energy, reports consumers saved enough energy in 2006 to

avoid emissions equivalent to those from 25 million cars, saving $14

billion.



Energy Star's online guide (see below) advises homeowners to

check the biggest leaks: the attic, around chimneys and the basement. If

you live in a particular zone (rural but within a given population

count) you may be qualified to receive help weatherizing your home,

especially if it is an old farmhouse.

Peter Wingate, director of Energy Resources at Worcester Community

Action Council, said the weatherization budget was reduced 16 percent

last year, but has been restored for this coming winter season.



"Utility efficiency programs for income-eligible households

continue to be strong," he added.



While income eligibility is the key determining factor, those who

fill out the paperwork for the agencies are sometimes overwhelmed at

what is required, according to a low-income market research study

conducted in 2003 by Eastham Associates.



There are other funds and programs available to homeowners. For

more information, call the Worcester Community Action Council.



Fuel Assistance Program



Also called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).



Homeowners and renters may apply.



Eligibility is determined by income and size of household.



Fuel sources covered by the program are: oil, propane, wood, coal

(through a dealer), and gas and electric utilities.



You may be eligible for an additional benefit if the cost of heat

for your home over the last 12 months exceeds the threshold set for your

heating source, according to WCAC.



To apply, submit the necessary documentation (see list below).

Depending on eligibility you may not need to do anything else. If

anything is missing you may be contacted by mail to fill in specific

information.



Once approved, you will also qualify for weatherization, reduced

rates and emergency furnace repairs.



Make sure you keep at least one copy of each utility bill, recent

income stubs and whatever else has been requested for proof of

eligibility. And, call one week later and verify the office has received

the envelope.



Even if you go in person, always keep at least a copy of anything

that has been submitted.



You will be notified by mail or you may call the automated system

(508) 754-7281



For last year's heating season, which ran from Nov. 1 - April

30, 2006, the maximum was $1,100 per household.



It is subject to change, and is announced when the new fuel program

begins.



The following is provided by Worcester Action Community Council.



Documents Needed:



Copy of your current heating bill;



Identification of all household members;



A picture ID for the head of household;



Current gross income from all sources and all household members 18

and over for the past 30 days (four consecutive pay stubs if paid weekly

or 2 if paid bi-weekly);



Children 18 years and over who are students must provide a letter

from the school indicating they are full-time students currently

enrolled in school;



If you are over 18 and claiming no income you must sign a no-income

statement (provided at the office);



If you claimed no income for more than a year you must supply a

wage statement from the social security office;



Lease agreement if you have a rental subsidy;



A copy of your last check or printout if receiving fixed income

(Social Security, Disability payment, SSI, etc.);



Check stub, letter from the pension company or 1099-document

received at the end of the year from pension showing gross amount..



Note: A bank statement showing direct deposits will not be

accepted.



If receiving child support, one must provide copies of four current

payments or a court order with current copy of check or stub. Or one

must provide a notarized statement from ex-spouse stating amount and

frequency of payments; and



Four most recent stubs from unemployment or workers'

compensation.



If you own a multifamily home, you need to provide:



Rent receipts for tenants;



Property tax bill;



Homeowners insurance;



Water/sewer bill;



Mortgage interest statement or current copy of federal taxes with

complete Schedule E, signed and dated;



Documentation for the source of interest income over $100.



If self-employed, a signed copy of prior year's tax returns

with all attachments.



If the tax return was self-prepared, the signature page must be

notarized.



Worcester Community Action Council



Started in 1965 as a community agency for what was called the

Economic Opportunity Act.



In 2007 it served as an agency for 25 different social services and

education programs, with offices in downtown Worcester, Webster,

Southbridge, Spencer and Oxford.



Each year, WCAC helps almost 11,000 households with fuel

assistance, and it is very important to apply at the start of the

heating season, which begins Nov. 1.



Towns served:



Auburn, Boylston, West Boylston, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West

Brookfield, North Brookfield, Charlton, Charlton City, Charlton Depot,

Dudley, Douglas, Fiskdale, Holden, Jefferson, Leicester, Rochdale,

Cherry Valley, Millbury, Oakham, Oxford, Paxton, Rutland, Southbridge,

Spencer, Sturbridge, Sutton, Warren, West Warren, Webster, Worcester.



WAP

Federally-funded, the Weatherization Assistance Program is designed

to help homeowners and renters keep heat in their homes. To qualify you

must be a Fuel Assistance client, demonstrate your income is within the

guidelines, and your place of residence has not been weatherized

(insulated and weather-stripped) by WCAC since Sept. 30, 1993. Contact

one of the community action councils in Central Mass. to apply.



Good Neighbor Energy Fund



Funds available for those in financial crisis who do not qualify

for other fuel assistance. Administered by the Salvation Army. Call

(800) 334-3047.



National Grid Weatherization Assistance



For homeowners and renters with electric heat.To qualify, you must

be eligible for reduced rates with National Grid. They are referred to

as "the R-2 rate." Eligibility for fuel assistance usually

qualifies a household to receive the reduced rate.



Appliance Replacement Program



National Grid may replace your refrigerator or freezer if it is

using excessive amounts of energy to operate. You need to be in your

current residence for at least six months, have an R-2 rating on your

bill, and use more than 10 KWH per day.



An energy manager will review usage, especially your refrigerator;

bring energy saving light bulbs and water conservation devices and

provide information on ways to save on your electric bill.One may be a

homeowner or renter to be eligible.



65-Plus and Double Protection



Keeps utility customers over 65 from receiving any "Final

Notice" on their electric bill. Double Protection refers to go to this site a

family member or caregiver who receives notice of any unpaid bill.

Contact the Customer Service Department of the utility provider.



Citizens Energy Heat Assistance Program



Heating by oil or gas: The Oil Heat Program offers one tank up to

200 gallons of heating oil at a 40 percent discount per heating season

(cash only). Low-income families and elderly Massachusetts residents

qualify.



Heating by natural gas: Those who heat with natural gas can inquire

about The Citizens Energy Distrigas program, which offers a $150 credit

to eligible households in the state. No strict income requirements; but

one cannot be eligible for Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP) or you have used up

LIHEAP benefits.



Forgiveness Program



Local community programs work with customers who may not be able to

pay off an overdue utility bill because of reasons of hardship. Some

portion of the overdue balance may be forgiven, especially is the

household is already receiving means-tested government benefits.



Contact the WCAC for more information. See Resource Guide below.



Weatherization Services



The program is year-round. After establishing eligibility an energy

inspection will be scheduled and a certified auditor will write

recommendations. Local contractors hired by the action community counsel

offices (at no cost to the homeowner) carry out the work according to

enforced guidelines ensuring quality. Whenever possible, the work is

done with any Energy Efficiency program offered by a local utility

company. Staff members at the Worcester Community Action Counsel, Inc.

are trained to provide optimum of services for which applicants may

qualify.



What is offered:



Energy audit;



Attic insulation;



Wall insulation;



Air sealing;



Heating system repair/insulation; and



Safety inspection.



$4,500 maximum; program leveraged with funds from federal Dept. of

Energy for weatherization. Priority given to high-use customers.



Winter Energy-Saving Tips



Caulk and weather strip doors and windows that leak air.



When the fireplace is not in use, keep the flue damper tightly

closed.



Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable and consider an

automatic setback thermostat to save additional money.



Clean or replace filters on furnaces every other month.



Make sure that warm air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators

are not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.



Close your curtains and shades at night; open them during the day.



Have your oil-fired heating system serviced annually and your

gas-fired heating system serviced every three years.



Contact the energy assistance agency in your community to find out

about the programs they offer that can keep you warm this winter.



Source: Massachusetts Government Publications;

www.mass.gov/dhcd/publications.



Resource Guide



Worcester Community Action Council, Inc, 484 Main St., 2nd floor,

Worcester, MA 01608. 508-754-1176.



Automated info: 508-754-7281 or 800-545-4577.



New England Farm Workers Council, North Central Mass., 435 Main

St., Suite 3040, Fitchburg, MA 01420. 978-342-4520



Montachusett Opportunity Council, Inc.Weatherization Office, 93

Fairmont St., Fitchburg, MA 01420. 978-342-7025.



On the Internet



Worcester Community Action Council



www.wcac.net/energy_services.htm



Massachusetts general information:



www.massresources.org/massachusetts_energy_assistance.



www.mass.gov/dhcd/components/cs/Fuel.



Nstar gas customers:



www.nstaronline.com/residential/financial_assistance.



Citizens Energy Heat Assistance Program:



www.massresources.org.



Winchedon/Fitchburg Area Action Committees:



www.cornerstoneag.net/Assistance.htm.



Utility Shut-off Protection:



www.worcesterresources.org.



Worcester residents: call utility companies to register for

shut-off protection.



For gas service, call NSTAR at 800-592-2000.



For electric service, call National Grid at 800-322-3223.



Low-income consumers of energy receive assistance from several

services representing them with fuel assistance and weatherization

issues:



www.partnersforcommunity.org.



Fuel-assistance eligibility calculator:



http://www.massresources.org.



Eligibility examples:



For a one-person household, gross income cannot exceed $20,420.



For a two-person household, the maximum is $27,380.



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